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Old December 27th, 2008, 12:05 PM   #1
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What makes UK TV look so different from US TV?

When I watch, say, Eureka or any of the Stargates and compare them to Torchwood or various Brit series I watch on PBS here in the states...they're just, well, different.

I cant quite put my finger on it. Do we shoot primarily on film in the US, and video in the UK? DOF seems the same, but different. Colors seem the same, but different. Clarity, contrast, lighting... all seems the same, but different. To my eye, it's consistently different too. There is definitely something about UK vs US shows. What is it that I cant find? Is there really that much of a difference between NTSC and PAL? Or is it something else? I don't notice the difference in feature films or docos, really it's only TV series.

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Old December 27th, 2008, 03:22 PM   #2
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Difference between NTSC and Pal, as you suggest. The PAL original shows you see in the US are converted from PAL to NTSC and suffer image degradation in the process. When I travel abroad it takes a little while (day or two) for my eyes to adjust to the different frame rate, resolution etc.
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Old December 27th, 2008, 06:00 PM   #3
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With all that said, I must say I love the Look and feel of shows like Doctor Who, The US version, and a Bittorrent of the British DW both are very similar in the way they look.

Additionally, YES I as well find the differences interesting. DW and the color saturation for instance and the use thereof is (to me) far better that what the US would dare to attempt. Then again some shows are definitely British in style but that is mainly a script / humor issue and really doesn't apply in this case. ;-)

It's great to look at the production style from an analytical view.
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Old December 27th, 2008, 06:41 PM   #4
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When I first saw a PAL broadcast abroad, I was shocked at how much flicker there was on the pans and fast motion. I didn't think there would be much difference between 50Hz and 60Hz, but the difference was definitely there.
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Old December 28th, 2008, 12:53 AM   #5
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Different frame rates, as mentioned, different resolutions, and different colour spaces. There are some colours that can be rendered in PAL but not NTSC, and some that can be rendered in NTSC but not PAL.
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Old December 28th, 2008, 01:22 AM   #6
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I think that you can also say that in principle, PAL has an advantage over NTSC because PAL has 576 pixels of vertical resolution versus 480 pixels of vertical resolution. That's a 20% increase in resolution. This increased resolution translates into a better looking image.

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Old December 28th, 2008, 02:53 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Stelios Christofides View Post
I think that you can also say that in principle, PAL has an advantage over NTSC because PAL has 576 pixels of vertical resolution versus 480 pixels of vertical resolution. That's a 20% increase in resolution. This increased resolution translates into a better looking image.

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Higher end UK television programmes currently tend to be shot on 2/3" or Super 16, they haven't used 35mm much for making programmes since the early 1970s. That would make them look different to many of the US series that have been shot on 35mm.

I think the flicker depends on what you're used to. The 24 fps effect on camera moves in NTSC countries is pretty horrendous, but for some reason they seem to love shooting at a 24p frame rate simulate that effect. However, shooting in PAL countries the film & video frame rate for TV is the same, so the moves are smoother compared to NTSC 24 fps.

Certainly the colour on PAL is a lot more stable than that found on NTSC (Never Twice the Same Colour).
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Old December 28th, 2008, 04:41 AM   #8
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NTSC=Never twice the same colour
PAL=Pictures are lovely

Sorry couldnt resist!!!
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Old December 28th, 2008, 05:10 AM   #9
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If we're talking analogue, then the PAL vs NTSC comment is valid, but the colour encoding system is much more transparent now we're in a digital world. The BBC in deepest Cardiff haven't yet standardised on a production format - but this isn't a huge snag as the real issue is delivery format - if it's optimised for 25fps or 30 (29.96)fps - this is the problem with movement. If showing it in the old NTSC areas means that they want 30 frames per second from a 25 frame source, then some frames need to be created from somewhere, either repeating some or interpolating some 'new' ones. All this makes smooth movement difficult. If it's from analogue sources then some adjustment to the line structure is also needed to display the 625(312)/525(262) frame/field structure properly. Many of these lines are actually not displayed on the average monitor anyway, and sometimes, a gentle squeeze or squash of the picture to make it fit isn't even noticed - we're too used to pictures being stretched to fit our weird shaped screens nowadays. The digital screen size differences usually mean a slight crop or black band to make it fit, and as a result the difference in resolution isn't really that important. A couple of years ago I shot some DV for an American client here in a stately home, and gave them the tapes to take away. They'd even hired the camera, one I was familiar with. Only a few months ago I found one of the test tapes shot on the first day, and took a few bits out to use in another project. Only then did I note the small black lines on the monitor - the camera was NTSC and I'd not noticed. We'd used UK PAL monitors (left switched to the auto mode) and they'd displayed the images the camera produced, the colour was fine and nothing looked 'wrong'. In digital it doesn't have the obvious image quality issues - but annoyingly, as so much kit is happy with both colour systems and formats nowadays, it's not that easy to know which bit of the chain is handling conversion anymore. I'd guess that if UK programmes look poor on US transmission, then analogue has come into the equation somewhere.
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Old December 28th, 2008, 05:38 AM   #10
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In the end, I suspect the differences will be more to lighting and story telling styles. For example, BBC documentaries haven't traditionally been so driven by the ad breaks, so there is less of the repeating of catch up/hook info following the breaks. However, this is increasing, especially with the longer breaks found on some channels and you can even spot it on the BBC co-productions with Discovery.

"Torchwood" doesn't have any ad breaks when transmitted on the BBC.
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